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For Paul Davolt, it felt like there was little else to do on a sunny, 70 degree afternoon Wednesday, April 1.
“We’ve all been cooped up inside,” Davolt said, sitting in a folding chair on a public dock at Pomme de Terre Lake’s Bolivar Landing, a fishing pole in his hand, his bobber bobbing up and down with the movement of the water. “It’s such a beautiful day. We just had to.”
Davolt’s daughter-in-law, Mikayla, and his grandson, Karson Quinn, were with him on the dock, while he said other family members fished farther down the shore.
Prompted by state social distancing and group size guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the closure of movie theaters, malls and other entertainment venues, Missourians have headed outside, seeking fresh air and recreation.
“The current public-health emergency caused by the coronavirus has many Missourians and others looking for safe ways to get outside in nature,” Missouri Department of Conservation Director Sara Parker Pauley said in an agency news release. “Missouri’s rivers and streams offer high quality fishing as a way for people to connect with nature while still complying with all health and safety recommendations. Fishing is also a great way to get some much needed physical and mental health benefits during this stressful time.”
It was worth it, Davolt said, even though Quinn had been the only one of their group to reel anything in.
“You know the saying is that a bad day fishing is still better than a good day at work,” he said.
Davolt’s thoughts are echoed on the MDC’s website, where the agency has published several responses to the ongoing crisis.
“Outdoor spaces are well suited to increased social distance, and fresh air is a great way to calm your mind,” a statement reads. “But, we must remain diligent in taking steps to make your visit as safe and enjoyable as possible.”
The Bolivar Landing fishing area is a joint site between the MDC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recently closed all campgrounds at the lake and across the state due to concerns with the spread of the virus.
“In addition, visitor centers, beaches, special events and USACE-sponsored events, such as shore sweeps, interpretive programs, Kids to Parks, Earth Day events, public meetings and other public gatherings have been closed and/or put on hold until further notice,” the Corps website stated.
Some day use facilities and lake access areas, including at Pomme de Terre, remain open, the site stated.
According to the MDC, conservation areas, trails and boat ramps are operating as normal.
In other parts of the state, Gov. Mike Parson recently announced plans to close Castlewood State Park, Elephant Rocks State Park, Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site and Park and Weston Bend State Park and close the off-road vehicle area of St. Joe State Park to address concerns with overcrowding and the spread of the virus.
Additionally, Parson said, gates to individual parking lots may close at all state parks when lots reach capacity.
A list of guidelines published on the MDC’s site advise visitors to stay home if they’ve felt sick in the last two weeks, limit their group sizes to 10 or fewer, avoid areas where people congregate, like scenic overlooks, buildings or playgrounds, keep 6 feet apart and to pack water, soap and hand sanitizer.
In response to the pandemic, the agency temporarily closed its offices and waived fishing permits through Wednesday, April 15, with stated plans to reassess the situation then.
According to its website, the agency has also made other changes, including closing staffed shooting ranges, nature centers and visitor centers and canceling events and programs.
Free resources are available at MDC.mo.gov, including educational activities, games, magazines and access to live daily wildlife cameras.
Give space on the greenway
Ozark Greenways Director Mary Kromrey said the organization’s trails have also seen an increase in users in recent weeks.
The organization oversees the non-motorized Frisco Highline Trail, which connects Bolivar and Springfield.
“We love that we’re seeing an increase in people on the trails. We want people to go outside,” Kromrey said. “We also want to remind people to practice social distancing while they’re out there.”
Kromrey pointed to urban trails in other communities, some of which have closed due to concerns with overcrowding.
“We’re just trying to share the message that when you head outside, ‘be smart,’” she said.
Those with fevers or flu-like symptoms should stay off the trails, she said.
“Think about your community,” she said. “What’s the best thing you can do to flatten the curve? Because for some populations, exposure is life or death.”
Kromrey said the organization is encouraging trail users to visit the outdoors close to home if they can.
“Instead of driving to another small community, consider, ‘Is that small town equipped to deal with an influx of people?’” she said.
It’s also important to be cautious on the trail, she added.
“Now is not the time to be going into the hospital with a broken bone, so keep it chill and use common sense,” she said.
Kromrey said trail users should plan to bring their own water, along with hand sanitizers and wipes. Some of the restrooms along the trails may be closed, she said. The guidelines are in place so everyone can continue to enjoy the outdoors, she said.
“Not only are you wanting to keep yourself safe, you've got to keep your neighbors safe, too,” she said.